Team Building: 12 Ways Executives Miss the Mark


Team Building: How Executives are Missing the Mark

To get team members pulling in the same direction, team building is one of the most powerful vehicles available to executives. It’s an opportunity to break down silos, improve cross-functional teamwork, and brainstorm to generate solutions for business challenges. Unfortunately, this opportunity is often missed and many companies fail to get full benefit from team building. It’s important to think of team building in terms of R.O.I. instead of viewing it as an “activity”  divorced for organizational goals and objectives.

Here are 12 ways in which CEOs are missing the mark for effective team building:

  • Substituting corporate “play days” for “real” team building.
  • Shelving team building when business slows down.
    This happens when corporate play days don’t pay off and a new CEO is presented with data about how much money the previous CEO invested in frivolous activities with no bottom line impact. When a company is facing challenges, it is important to tap into the collective genius of employees and get their help in coming up fresh ideas and strategies. Expertly facilitated team building can be an excellent vehicle for clearing up miscommunication and ensuring that employees are getting accurate information about where the company is headed during periods of turbulence and change.

Alternatives: Trim the budget by doing part or all of the team building on-site. Postpone the recreational components for celebration when performance begins to improve or use a short, inexpensive off-site recreational component tying into the meeting and team building theme.

A company can offer most of their 3 day team building session on-site in internal meeting rooms. The group can brown bag it on day 1, have off-site activities at an inexpensive camp, off-season for all or part of day 1, and finish on-site on day 3 and order pizza for lunch. The same content and recreational activities can be included as if the group had opted for overnight stays high end resort.

  • Setting the length of the meeting before determining how much time the agenda requires.Don’t pick the timeframe out of the air but build the agenda from the ground up and determine how much time you realistically need. Build in a half day buffer as additional issues are likely to surface during the week before your meeting or team building retreat.

Alternatives: Arrange for the group to arrive early on the first day and leave after dinner on the final day, this will build in some margin for error without blowing the budget.

  • Picking the dates, event venue, hotel or resort before determining the shape of team building.
    Team building consultants sometimes receive some truly bizarre requests. For example, my company has had prospective clients request for winter team building with dog sledding in downtown Toronto in October and desert team building in Dubai in May or July. More often than not, the contract with the hotel has already been signed and it’s too late to select a more appropriate venue and dates.
  • Blowing the budget on the most expensive hotel in town and expecting professional team building specialists to work for pittance.This leads to requests for team building for $25 – $50 a person often including refreshments.

Hint: If the budget is less than the cost of dinner per person at a moderate restaurant or less than your teenager is earning, it’s too low. Professionals with a high level of education and experience need to be compensated accordingly. If you expect a professional facilitator to work for an hourly rate that is less than what you pay your highly trained car mechanic, it’s time to re-think your expectations.

Alternatives: For 1 day team building, budget at least $100 a person for a large group and up to $250 for a small group. Budget even more if you the team wants a high end activity like polo or a luxury car experience as part of the team building simulation.

  • Delegating the responsibility for sourcing team building to inexperienced team members.
    This guarantees you will end up with a short list of “fun” or “cool” activities with little consideration of the real benefits to the team or the organization. This will be even worse when a committee of inexperienced employees plans team building and “groupthink” sets in. If you just rubber stamp their recommendations, team building initiatives will stay off-track.

Alternatives: If you want to groom inexperienced employees by all means, give them an opportunity to work with someone more senior and plan a corporate event like the annual Christmas party, anniversary banquet or company picnic.

  • Failing to provide a clear brief with the goals and objectives for team building.
    Team members who are tasked with sourcing team building end up “flying blind”.

Alternatives: Provide a clear, written brief identifying specific goals and objectives and how they tie into the organizations missions, objectives, and targets. Provide a realistic budget and segregate team building facilitation from the accommodation, and recreational components when listing the budget.

  • Failing to provide input early in the planning process.
    Often CEOs don’t pay attention until a few days before team building or an executive retreat. Panic sets in and there is a need to make drastic, last minute changes to ensure that team building is on-track. Sometimes, this even happens after team building has started and there is a need for frantic, last minute course correction.

Alternatives:To eliminate surprises:

  1. Prepare the initial brief with your SPECIFIC requirements. (15 minutes)
  2. Review ALL responses to the RFPs.
  3. Generate a short-list of no more than 3 suppliers and preparespecific questions for team building suppliers on the shortlist. (15 Minutes – For 2 & 3)
  4. Review the answers and make the final selection. (5 minutes)
  5. Sign-off on the detailed agenda and the handouts. (5 minutes each)
  • Treating team building as an afterthought.

“We have 2 hours left on the agenda, let’s do some “team building.” is a strategy guaranteed to produce sub-par results.

  • Packing the agenda and falling behind schedule. Usually the time for team building gets cut.

Alternative: A better plan is to begin with team building, select an approach and theme dovetailing with the meeting objectives.

Use team building to pull the team together to ensure the meeting goes more smoothly.

  • Allocating insufficient time for team building.
    While half a day may be sufficient for a corporate outing or recreational event, allocate at least 1 1/2 days to include sufficient time for setting the context, debriefing and business application exercises. If the timeframe is too short, analytical learners will not have enough “thinking time”. There are are no quick fixes. Analytical learners will conclude that team building was a time waster. Introverts also don’t have enough time to develop the level of comfort needed to make participate. As a result, valuable contributions are lost.
  • Panicking and cutting things short without involving the facilitator if some team members aren’t getting the links to business right away.
    This usually happens when insufficient time has been allocated for team building and the process is rushed.

Alternatives: A better approach is to address any concerns with the facilitator. Ask the facilitator to pause and discuss the concerns with the group, allow more thinking process and group discussion time. It is also a cue to slow things down and really take the time to answer questions, cover the material in more depth and give the group time to process information. This is where building a buffer into the agenda helps.

In summary, team building is much more than a corporate play day or a day of “fun in the sun”. Set clear objectives and provide a clear brief to the member of your team who is sourcing team building. Get quotes from prospective team building suppliers before locking you your dates or finalizing your hotel selection.

Main Photo Credit: jdog90 on Flickr

If you found this post beneficial, you’ll also want to read:

Executive Retreats, Executive Oasis International

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